Psychology & SEO: Delving Into the Mind of a Google Searcher
If Freud was a marketer, he probably would have said: “SEO is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk under the water”. When it comes to website optimization, there’s so much more than meets the eye. The way you insert your SEO title or how well you write alt text is important if you want to rank higher on Google. But your success starts with understanding the searcher, their quest to find answers and how their choices ultimately affect your website. This is why in this article we’d like to focus on a more psychological approach to SEO.
It’s no secret that psychology is applied to many fields in the marketing world. From the use of numbers, to color theory and design, human behavior is a huge factor in the way that marketers create content. And SEO is no different. Having a better understanding of the science behind the mind of the searcher will enable you to create even better content for your website. In turn, Google will reward you with a SEO boost for your site. #MindBlown.
Have you been searching for lifeless keywords and inserting them carelessly into your metadata? Then maybe it’s time for you to consider getting a shrink for your marketing strategy. Below we’ll share some insights that will help you use psychology to your advantage and up your SEO game.
01. The typology of searches
It’s a known behavior: we all use search engines. Actually at the very second you are reading this, Google is processing over 40 thousand queries. By the end of the day this will amount to 3.5 billion. While we all function the same way when arriving on Google, we may have ventured to the search engine for different reasons and with different thought processes. For example, if someone enters the query ‘create a website’, you might ask yourself: what is going through this searcher’s head? Are they looking for a tutorial on how to make a website? Or are they looking for a service to actually build their own website? To help us comprehend a searcher’s intention a bit better, SEO theorists have mapped out the most common types of searches, defining three main categories: transactional, informational, navigational.
Navigational or ‘Go’ queries
These search inquiries are typed with the intention of finding your business, and are generally attributed to users who are already familiar with your business or brand. This search query generally comes by way of someone typing your business name, for example ‘Wix’ (or a misspelled variation of your name) into the search bar.
Informational or ‘Know’ queries
These searches generally come from people who want more information about a subject, but don’t know that you’re the site to turn to. They often start off with “how to..” or “what is..” such as: “What is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago”, or “Who sings ‘Let it Be’”.
Transactional or ‘Do’ queries
These are action-oriented searches that should lead potential customers to your business. The searches are made up of people who are looking for what your business does, but may not know that you’re the best business to turn to. For example, someone who searches for the “music online” or “cheap salsa classes in Toronto”.
Defining the appropriate groups for your search audience can help put you in the state of mind of your target group and give you a better understanding of their needs.
02. A keyword can have multiple meanings
Much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a word’s meaning is in the eye of the searcher. This is true especially for keywords or queries, meaning the combination of words used in a search box. Close your eyes (but keep on reading though) and imagine this: You head to Google and enter the term ‘website’ in the search box. You get to a page full of results, and take a few moments to examine the snippets that show up. Unsatisfied with the answers, you once again perform a search. But now, instead of using a different term, you become more specific and write ‘create a website’. This is a classic case of RSS or ‘Repeated Search Syndrome’, and it is seen mainly when you perform a search that is too broad in meaning. Generally, if you search for a nonspecific term, you’ll get a mix of results (definitions, tutorials, videos, etc). Why? Because it’s too difficult to distinguish whether it’s a ‘know, ‘go’ or ‘do’ type of query.
Hence why, the more specific the keywords, the clearer the searcher’s intention becomes. A better comprehension of intent will allow you to create content that satisfies the user’s query in the best way possible. This is another great reason to use long tail keywords. We’re not talking ‘stream of conscious’-length, but rather phrases that are at least four or five words long, for example ‘how to build a website’ or ‘examples of creative web design’. Once you’ve identified strong long tail keywords, you can even start a blog of your own. This will allow you to publish a diverse range of content, help you target the right people and increase clicks to your website.
03. A question can have several answers
Let’s face it: Google probably knows more about you via your search queries than your actual therapist. And thanks to RankBrain, an artificial intelligence program used to process queries, the search engine is getting better at understanding exactly what it is you’re looking for, and what type of results you wish to see. The way it works is that, if multiple users click on the seventh result from the search results rather than the first, the mechanism will understand that this result is better and will move it up to the top. Not only that, but it can also understand the type of content that searchers want to see. For example, if searchers are clicking on more video results rather than news articles, it will start returning these types of pages. Google constantly gives us subtle hints about searcher behavior. All you need to do is know how to decipher the clues. Good thing we’re here, right?
Let’s go into analysis mode. First thing you should do when trying to compete for a keyword is to analyze the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). This will give you a really good insight on what Google believes the intention of the searcher is. For example, for a keyword like ‘how to make banana bread,’ the majority of the results will be clear-cut recipes, rather than infographics or images. Look at the first 5 results, do you see any similarities there? If you’re competing for this keyword, this is most probably the style of content you should be creating too. Another great way to get even more insight on your keywords, is to check related searches and the auto-suggest results. This is Google’s subconscious way of showing you what other queries are being typed in, related to your keywords, that were possibly searched for in the same session. Check to see those results and what is offered there. It might be that the results here are outdated, or don’t provide great content. Which can mean less competition for those specific keywords, and more opportunity for you to provide that content.
04. Text can be written in numerous ways
Sure, SEO is about using the right keywords to get a search engine’s attention and show up as a result for a relevant search. But however mechanical SEO may get, it’s crucial that you create content for a human audience, and not search engines. This may seem obvious, but the way copy is written, affects the way people perceive your product and your business. You don’t want to alienate site visitors with overstuffed keywords in your texts. And Google would certainly agree. In fact, the search engine uses an advanced method called LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) that can determine the relationship between terms and concepts in content. Thanks to this mechanism, you don’t need to stick the passé style of SEO writing or feel trapped by keywords. Feel free to use synonyms and terms to make your content sound as natural and legible as possible, within the same topic of course.
In addition, it’s a good practice to write copy using the language of your audience. By doing interviews and written surveys with your customers, you’ll be able to understand their pain points, fears and problems, plus the words they use to express them. A great technique is to adopt the same style of speech, but convert their problems into the solutions you provide. This will without a doubt strike a chord with your customer. Trust us, your audience can smell marketing stench from miles away. So keep your copy humane and appealing.
05. SEO can involve countless practices
As you may have understood by now, SEO is a multifaceted practice that is not only about the quality of your content or the way you enter your metadata. It’s also about the general psychological experience that your website provides its visitors. Is your homepage clear, user-friendly and easily navigable? Did you choose the right color palette for your website? Is your content shareable? All of these indirect factors can impact your SEO. And some of them can even be translated into data. By checking metrics such as time on page, bounce rate and pageviews you can better understand if people are having a positive experience on your site. (Pssst, check out this article to make sure you know how to use Google analytics properly.)
On top of this, the social element of your business shouldn’t be forgotten either. Having an active community as well as being present on social media will allow you to become more trustworthy in your audience’s eyes. Even the most cynical consumer can be converted with the help of peer reviews. For a very simple psychological reason: people tend to believe other people, not the advertiser. What’s more, is that the conversion rate of a website that includes testimonials is generally higher than those who don’t. That’s why adding reviews and testimonials to your site is a classic cognitive trick that never dies.
By Ruth Eschenheimer
SEO Content Specialist